Glorifying God in Our Suffering (1 Peter 4:12–19)
Peter lived and served in a time when just being a Christian could subject you to unspeakably harsh treatment. Believers were routinely rounded up, imprisoned, tortured, and killed — all because they practiced a religion different from that of the Roman world.
Peter teaches the importance of glorifying God in our suffering — or to put it another way, suffering the right way. And what is the right way? The way Jesus himself suffered as those who persecuted and murdered him looked on. Peter wrote in 1 Peter 4:1: “So then, since Christ suffered physical pain, you must arm yourselves with the same attitude he had, and be ready to suffer, too.”
Thriving and growing in our faith in the midst of suffering is one of the main themes, if not the main theme, of 1 Peter. The word suffer, or variations of it, is used no fewer than seventeen times in this epistle, while the word trial is used five times.
Just hours before he was about to endure some of the most brutal physical punishment ever inflicted, Jesus told his disciples, “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first … . Do you remember what I told you? ‘A slave is not greater than the master.'; Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you. And if they had listened to me, they would listen to you” (John 15:18, 20).
One thing those who have suffered for their faith can tell you is that persecution, opposition, and other kinds of suffering have a way of either killing you or making you stronger. That is partly why Peter, who was with Jesus when he gave the above warning, wrote, “Dear friends, don';t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad — for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world” (1 Peter 4:12–13).
We live in a world where most people can avoid any kind of suffering or discomfort. It';s also a world in which even the most outspoken Christians have to endure little more than verbal abuse. But Peter, who lived in a place and time of incredible danger for Christians, encouraged his brothers and sisters in the faith of that time to:
not be surprised at the “fiery trials” they were going through
be glad about the suffering, because they make them partners with Jesus Christ in his suffering.
know that suffering in a way that glorifies God gives them the privilege of seeing God';s glory revealed to the world
In other words, when we suffer for Christ in any way, enduring it without complaining but with a sense of joy, peace, and faith, it is sure to get the world';s attention and reflect positively on the faith you have and on the One in whom you have that faith.
The first chapter of James gives an excellent overview of the purpose God has in our spiritual lives for trials and suffering. In that passage, James points out that suffering produces endurance and endurance produces strength of character (James 1:2–4).
In this passage, Peter does give his readers a small addendum to let them know that while there is no shame but only joy and reward for suffering for Christ, it is important to make sure we are suffering for the right reasons. He wrote, “If you suffer, however, it must not be for murder, stealing, making trouble, or prying into other people';s affairs” (1 Peter 4:15).
This is in keeping with making sure that our lives continue to be a reflection of the Christ we serve. And Peter seems to indicate that if we suffer because of our own ungodly, unacceptable actions, then there is no reward in that — only the consequences of our own shameful behavior.
However, Peter tells us that there is no shame in suffering for being a Christian, so we can praise God for the privilege of being called by His name. And if we suffer in a way that pleases God, if we keep doing the right things, if we keep trusting in our Creator, He will never fail us — no matter what we have to endure (1 Peter 4:16–19).
How do you typically respond when you are criticized or chided for being a Christian? In light of Peter';s teaching, how do you think you should respond?
What behaviors and thought patterns do you think cause you to suffer needlessly?